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Enthusiastic Entrepreneurs Fuel Growth in Northwest Arkansas

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In a prospering economy with low unemployment and growing profits, entrepreneurs with big ideas are trying their hand at growing a business. And in Bentonville on Thursday night, speakers from eight new companies pitched their supply chain startups during the Fuel Accelerator demo day.

The 16-week program took these eight companies and matched their leaders with enterprise partners and experienced mentors in order to get these startups enterprise ready.

Startup Junkie and RevUnit worked together to make the program a reality, according to Michael Iseman, chief relations officer for Startup Junkie.

Iseman says the Arkansas Economic Development Commission provides funding for programs like Fuel as it aims to build companies and diversify the state economy. With that funding, Startup Junkie and RevUnit collaborated on the first Fuel accelerator program.

“We looked at what it was for and what we could do for companies here in Northwest Arkansas,” Iseman said.

Although this was the inaugural Fuel accelerator program, it was far from Iseman’s first event like this.

“We’ve done about 10 other accelerator programs in Northwest Arkansas,” he says.

When it came to finding candidates for this year’s accelerator, Iseman says organizers were looking for companies with some traction, whether that be revenue, customers or investment.

Meanwhile, people still in the process of founding their startup and getting it off the ground have other events and programs to turn to at Startup Junkie.

In total, Fuel took 15 months of planning, and the next one is slated to take place around January 2020, according to Iseman. This year’s accelerator saw eight supply chain startups enroll and go through the 16 weeks of planning, mentoring and other building activities.

Here are the eight startups that made their pitches on Thursday night:

  1. ShipHike: a final mile peer-to-peer provider that allows people driving across towns or on a trip to use empty space in their vehicle to deliver packages.
  2. Oculogx: an augmented reality platform that uses heads-up displays (like Google Glass) to assist pickers (like personal shoppers) in doing their jobs more efficiently.
  3. Thaddeus: a company focused on protecting perishable medical products by providing reusable, active temperature-controlled packaging and software.
  4. Ship.com: a logistics platform that reimagines the way consumers ship, track packages and share what they’ve purchased.
  5. AMBOTS: a company that originated at the University of Arkansas and focuses on swarms of 3D printing robots for faster and on-demand 3D printing.
  6. Luncher: an on-demand platform that allows people to order lunch from a rotating list of local restaurants and have it delivered to “hotspots” for free.
  7. BlyncSync: a startup focused on using wearable tech to monitor drivers, detect poor driving habits, and maintain safety by reducing accidents and then company costs.
  8. Drive My Way: a marketplace of professional drivers and companies needing things delivered that connects workers with jobs.

Beth Potratz, CEO of Drive My Way, told Arkansas Money and Politics she travels to Northwest Arkansas from Ohio every week and is considering establishing an office presence in the area.

She says the mentors in Fuel were once entrepreneurs themselves, and that really helped her to benefit from this program.  “They were in our shoes. They know what we go through,” she says.

She added RevUnit represents where startups need to be next and helps to pull other entrepreneurs through it all.

The educational program, authenticity and networking made Fuel an exceptional program that works, according to Potratz.

Potratz says she’s forged special relationships in Northwest Arkansas through this program. “I’m with my tribe. These are my people,” she says.

The mentors and supply chain leaders from local companies like Tyson Foods and ArcBest really leaned in and helped her, Potzratz says.

Austin Williams, a co-founder of AMBOTS, says he was familiar that Northwest Arkansas’ startup industry because he attended the University of Arkansas.

He says AMBOTS is trying to hit the market in 2020, but next they’ve got other startup and accelerator events to attend so the startup can expand customers and networks.

The co-founder adds there’s plenty of support for growing a business in Northwest Arkansas.

And that support will likely continue as more supply chain startups applicants gear up for Fuel in 2020.

READ MORE: Fuel Accelerator

Photos by Chandler Abbott

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